March 26, 2003 - The Baxter Bulletin: Senegal PCV Eric Mattson finds war in Iraq affects work

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Senegal PCV Eric Mattson finds war in Iraq affects work

Read and comment on this story from the Baxter Bulletin on PCV Eric Mattson who just arrvied in Senegal to find that with war in Iraq volunteers in the country are in standfast at:

War in Iraq affects many abroad, man learns*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

War in Iraq affects many abroad, man learns

Community News Coordinator

Eric Mattson

The influences of war are far-reaching, widespread and sometimes unexpected. When Eric Mattson stepped on the plane at Branson-Springfield Regional Airport March 15, war with Iraq was only a possibility.

It probably wasn't the best time to be flying to Africa, Mattson admitted, but his Peace Corps assignment was the culmination of more than 18 months of applications, interviews, essays, medical work-up and waiting. When he arrived in Senegal last week, he found the war affecting him, even in this nation on Africa's westernmost coast.

Mattson, 27, son of Dave and Anna Mattson of Bull Shoals, was told at the Philadelphia Peace Corps center he and 50 other Peace Corps volunteers would be taken into the "bush" to observe other volunteers in action several days after arriving in Senegal. Instead, Mattson said in a phone call to his parents Saturday, he and other volunteers found themselves locked down at Thies, Senegal, because of the war with Iraq.

Senegal is a country about the size of Nebraska whose 8.7 million populace is 98 percent Muslim and 2 percent Christian. According to the Peace Corps guidebook, volunteers are well received by native Senegalese, who are a progressive sect of Muslims. There are 129 Peace Corps volunteers in the country -- some teach English as a second language and others work in environmental studies. The war with Iraq, also a Muslim country, created an unpleasant atmosphere. For safety reasons, the new voluneers were locked down. According to Mattson, the new volunteers were hoping they would be able to journey into remote areas soon to see work under way by other volunteers.

A geography major and biology minor, Mattson plans to work in environmental areas, such as teaching the Senegalese to plant trees and how to prevent deforestation. With one airplane flight, he traded the comforts many of us take for granted -- television, hot water, showers, microwave, refrigeration and personal automobiles -- for a mud hut with no electricity or running water. Why? "This is a great opportunity to give of myself to others," he said.

He planned to be at the Thies training center for approximately three months, learning survival training, French and a native language and native culture. Once at the center, only French is spoken, so volunteers learn the language quickly by the immersion method. They usually live with a native family and attend training classes during the day. Living with a family gives volunteers a chance to learn the culture and a native language. "I took a crash course in French recently, but I don't know how much of it I will remember," Mattson said.

The northernmost part of Senegal is arid, bordering the south side of the Sahara Desert. The southernmost part is near the equator and is a tropical rain forest. Another country, The Gambia, dissects Senegal in the middle. Since The Gambia is in political strife, volunteers must detour around the country to access northern and southern parts of Senegal. During his phone call, Mattson said he thought he would be stationed in the rain forest area.

"Once you get into a village, they take care of you," he said. He indicated volunteers usually stand out among native tribes, so being a lone volunteer is much like living in a fish bowl.

Although he was nervous and excited before leaving last week, Mattson said he was looking forward to the challenges. "My sister was in the Peace Corps for 2 1/2 years in Honduras, and if she can do it, I can do it," he said.

On the homefront, he will be working long-distance with a fourth-grade social studies class at Flippin Elementary School. This work with local schools is part of spreading the Peace Corps ideals which are:

# To help the peoples of interested countries and areas in meeting their need for trained men and women.

# To help promote a better understanding of American people on the part of peoples served.

# To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of the American people.

Despite a rocky start, Mattson is ready, willing and able to take on the challenges of Peace Corps work. And hopes maybe his work will be one small step in bridging a gap between cultures and religions.
More about Peace Corps Volunteers who have served in Senegal

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